We’re well into the last ten days of Ramadan, more like the last week of it in fact, and yup, I’m wondering where the month went!

It flew right by!

And now the work in earnest begins.

Nobody knows the importance of tradition and celebrating your festivals as much as a kid growing up poor without Christmas.

I hated coming back from the Christmas holidays because I’d get regaled with a list of all the toys the other kids got for Christmas, and inevitably they’d ask me, “What did you get?” And I’d reply in a monotone, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.”

And then when Eid came around, and I finally did get a gift (we didn’t really do birthdays) it was ever only ‘one’ gift. Growing up I never had the experience of being deluged with gifts!

Never even had the experience of unwrapping a ‘pretty’ gift. My parents wrapped the one gift we received in newspaper. “What does it matter? You’re going to rip it anyway.”

And I could hardly brag about one gift to the kids at school.

I think any kid does need to have bragging rights, or else, the parents need to be proactive and speak to the kids fervently about how material possessions don’t indicate the worth of a person.

My father’s motto growing up was, “Poverty is my pride.” He claimed he was quoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) but I have, to this day, never found such a quote.

Instead of showering stuff on us, my parents spent a LOT of time with us, telling us stories of their growing up, and morality tales that would be considered ‘old fashioned’ these days, but they softened our hearts and yes, they taught us morals.

And every day my father would read us a section of Quran. He forced us to sit there as he painstakingly read it in English, and my mother taught us to read it in Arabic.

I was always a clunky Arabic reader. Still am.

Always got frustrated when you were supposed to join a letter (actually it was a shamsi letter–long story, it’s about the rules of reading the Quran)  to the next one on the next line, but you didn’t figure that out till you got to the next line.

But ever since I took a few preliminary courses on Arabic as a language and learned some of the basics of Arabic grammar (like the pronouns are attached to the subject! So cool!) I find that when I’m reading Quranic Arabic now I can actually pick out references and words and figure out what’s being referred to even before I access the translation.

I can even do this while listening to the recitation! Which is also cool! And gives you a totally different feel for the poetry of the Quran.

I’m trying to finish reading the entire Quran by the end of Ramadan, and I have a long way to go.

Plus I’m starting to make preparations for Eid.

Imagine cooking up a storm while you can’t taste or eat anything and that pretty much sums up the preparations for Eid.

I’ve already bought most of the gifts. I’m still in the process of assessing some of the things I bought and I need to wrap them, although most of it is done.

But now comes the baking!

Chocolate cake with mocha icing, pineapple tarts, LOADS AND LOADS of pineapple tarts! Pecan bars (my mother in law’s favourites!) lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies (to send to my nephew who’s stranded in Minneapolis).

And then to put a lot of these goodies into packages for our neighbors and some close family members.

The funny thing is I’ve learned that some mothers just don’t bother.

And I can’t imagine.

How do you not cook and bake up a storm for Eid?

Without the work involved, I think festivals just wouldn’t be that special.

It’s like with a newborn baby, I’m sure part of the bonding process involves how very difficult it is to take care of a newborn!

When you have to work so hard that first smile, the first baby giggle, is just such a HUGE payoff!

And same when the kids come downstairs sniffing the air because it’s filled with the aroma of pineapple jam bubbling on the stove!

So that my daughters say that it’s the SMELL of Eid!

And even as I’m rolling the pastry for every single pineapple tart, and dobbing the teaspoon of jam in the middle, I’m thinking of how happy the people who I’ll be giving them to, will be.

How it’s a neighborly thing to do, share some of our festivities with them.

And I also think of God, whom I’m trying to please with this bit of culinary good will, and the baking becomes a form of worship, believe it or not.

But tonight I got a sort of gift of my own.

It came in the form of an email from a student who apparently saw my presentation over ten years ago.

This was at Nelson Mandela Park Public School.

For those who are not familiar with this school, it’s in Regent Park, and if the name of that notorious area of Toronto doesn’t ring a bell, just think of one of the poorest schools in one of the biggest public housing projects in North America.

When I first started out I’d often go mostly to the poor schools because these schools had large Muslim populations. By the way, Regent Park has turned around as a community.

A lot of the biggest slum highrises have been torn down and there’s been so much investment into the community that it’s become one of the most vibrant communities in Toronto.

There is still a LOT of crime and drugs, though, and when I went there, it was way before it turned around into a sort of yuppie haven.

I remember the presentation to the grade eight class at Nelson Mandela Park very well!

I went in and did my Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile presentation.

Which contains kind of early versions of my Wanting Mor presentation and includes themes of suicide and racism.

Some of the kids who came in were huge and scary! These were black gangster type of boys with doo-rags on their heads and their jeans swung low back in the style of the day.

They dipped in a strange sort of stride as they walked in and sat down, and I thought how I wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

But I started talking about my experiences and by the end of it, they were pumping their fists in the air, ‘whooping’ for me, and some of the biggest scariest of them even came up to me afterwards and asked me to sign the jerseys they were wearing. (I’d never heard of that till then.)

I met some of the teachers who’d been there in the presentation at other schools later and they remembered me. One of them even told me that I’d been VERY good! I told her thanks. And then she looked at me like I didn’t get it and said as much. “No, you don’t get it. Those same kids had made other presenters cry!”

And then I went cold.

I thought wow!

Well, last night I received this email from a Muslim girl named Namarig who’d been in the audience. She gave me permission to share it publicly:

Assalama laikum,

 I remember I was in grade 8 when you came to my class at Nelson Mandela Park Public Schol. I was so proud and so inspired to see a muslim woman sitting there, reading us a book. I looked around and felt that I can be something one day.

 Years later (I cannot believe how long it’s been) I am a registered nurse working with the homeless population.

 JazakeAllahu khair! I don’t think you will ever realize how significant it is to meet you as a child.


Subhan Allah!

You can’t imagine what it feels like to receive such an email! Especially when you’ve always wanted to work with the homeless and needy and you do give charity but always felt that your talents were better served as a writer–and yet you always felt guilty not doing more hands on work with the vulnerable.

To think that I inspired this girl to go and do this kind of work!!!

Just wow! Subhan Allah!

Because I just know that the way God tallies things, I’m going to get rewarded, even just a little, for any good that I inspired her to do!

So yup! I’m hearing ‘kaching, kaching’ in my cash register of good deeds for the hereafter!

And what with all the Quran I’m reading and all the goodies I’m baking and all the duas I’m making for those unfortunate in Gaza and Egypt and Syria and Myanmar and Ukraine, and everywhere else in the world where there is turmoil, bloodshed and strife (I have to keep my duas open that way for fear of leaving anyone out!) my heart is feeling pretty full!

Like the joy is swelling up like a tide or something!

The bad people cannot thwart the plan of God!

They keep trying but they just can’t.

God is all powerful! And justice will be served in this world or in the next.

God did not create us for amusement, but to serve Him and we will all, whether we like it or not, whether we even believe in Him or not, we will all be accountable on the day of Judgment!

And this Ramadan has helped, insha Allah, bring me closer than ever to Him.